August 17, 2020

President Trump said last Thursday he opposes the push by Democrats to give the U.S. Postal Service billions of dollars for the election, telling Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo "they need that money in order for the Post Office to work, to take in these millions and millions of ballots,” and without the funds, "they can’t have universal mail-in voting."

But despite what Trump says and Democrats say they fear, a lack of money won't stop the USPS from delivering ballots in a timely matter, according to postal experts and the USPS itself. In the week before Christmas, for example, the USPS processes and delivers 2.5 billion pieces of first-class mail, or about 500 million cards and letters a day, not to mention packages.

"From a sheer numbers perspective, none of the experts I spoke with doubted that the Postal Service could handle a vote-by-mail election, even if every one of the nation’s more than 150 million registered voters stuck their ballot in a mailbox," Russell Berman writes in The Atlantic. "As one noted to me, a presidential election might be a big deal, but in postal terms, it’s no Christmas." The experts are worried about measures put in place by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

The disappearing mail-sorting machines and mail collection boxes aren't the big concern — or even necessarily DeJoy's doing, Nick Harper explains in a Medium post. The real electoral threat, Berman says, is DeJoy's rapid moves to eliminate overtime, "even though as many as 40,000 postal workers have been quarantined or out sick because of the coronavirus," and leave mail behind if it isn't on the truck on schedule, violating the Postal Service ethos and gumming up the works. The USPS has also said it won't treat all ballots as first-class mail, as it normally does.

But USPS has been preparing for a surge in mail-in ballots since before DeJoy took over, Berman writes, and besides, "post offices may not follow directives from Washington, D.C., if they believe doing so will tamper with the election. Postal workers are voters too, and for years they've been trained to prioritize ballots at election time." Read more at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

9:49 p.m.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law a dozen police reform measures, saying they will "work in coordination with one another to create a system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation."

Police chokeholds, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants are now banned in the state, and officers are required to step in if they witness colleagues using excessive force. The bills also restrict the use of tear gas, create an independent office to evaluate the use of deadly force, and make it easier to sue officers who cause injury. Now, Inslee said, Washington has "the best, most comprehensive, most transparent, most effective police accountability laws in the United States."

These sweeping reforms come after several high-profile police brutality cases, including the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man who died while in police custody last year in Tacoma; he was heard on police scanner traffic telling officers after he was handcuffed that he couldn't breathe. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

President Biden, facing calls from Democrats to push harder for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, has been privately encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start slowing down the airstrikes in Gaza, a person with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Administration officials are having the same conversations with other high-ranking Israeli officials, the person said, letting them know that after nine days of fighting, it is in their best interest to begin winding down the military operation.

Israeli officials say the airstrikes in Gaza are targeting Hamas in an attempt to degrade its military capabilities; in return, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel. At least 213 Palestinians and 12 Israelis have been killed since the conflict began.

On Monday, the White House said Biden called Netanyahu and expressed his support for a ceasefire. A person familiar with the discussions taking place between the U.S. and Israel told AP that the White House believes its best course of action is to avoid making public demands and instead focus on privately pressuring Israel to stop the airstrikes. Israel has indicated its military campaign could end in a few days, the person added.

While speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has been "doing this long enough ... to know sometimes diplomacy has to happen behind the scenes." Catherine Garcia

6:51 p.m.

With a vote of 364-62, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which directs the Department of Justice to task a point person with expediting the review of coronavirus-related hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

All of the opposing votes were from Republicans. The Senate approved the legislation 94-1 in April, with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) the lone vote against it. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law later this week.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began last spring, there has been a sharp increase in the number of attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the bill also calls on federal agencies to work with community-based organizations to spread awareness of hate crimes and establish a way for law enforcement to report hate crimes online.

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) introduced the legislation with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and said on Tuesday it is "a necessary step to confront the second pandemic of racism and discrimination. We cannot mend what we do not measure." Catherine Garcia

6:14 p.m.

If Republicans take back the House in 2022, at least one sitting GOP member of the chamber doesn't think House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is the right fit to serve as speaker — and you can probably guess who.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who some observers believe isn't a shoo-in to hold her seat, told Politico she won't vote for McCarthy in that hypothetical situation. "I think that we've got to have leaders who lead based on principle, and that's not what we've seen from him," Cheney said.

The rift between the two lawmakers, who not too long ago were leading the House GOP together, has grown significantly since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, culminating in a vote to oust Cheney — who has remained fiercely critical of former President Donald Trump and his role in the future of the Republican Party — as the House Republican conference chair, so her candid words didn't exactly come out of the blue. Read more about Cheney's own potential path forward in the party at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

6:08 p.m.

Well, if they are government drones, we're all doomed.

Researchers have estimated the Earth's individual bird population to be about 50 billion, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. That's roughly one human for every six birds, CNET reports. Per National Geographic, the study is "the first attempt to estimate the world population of birds, species by species."

Since birds are flighty creatures (pun intended) by nature, researchers, of course, weren't able to count them individually. Instead, scientists used a combination of computer algorithms and "citizen-scientist" observations from bird watching database eBird to arrive at their monumental number.

You may be asking yourself, "Why now?" or just, "Why?" The answer is simple: "For the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation, abundance estimates of organisms are essential," write the study's authors. "The distribution of species abundances is fundamental to numerous longstanding questions in ecology."

Although the researchers make sure to qualify their results as estimates (the census focused on only about 92 percent of "all living bird species"), their findings do "represent the best-available data" at the moment, per CNET.

Now, there's only one question left to ask — did or did they not accurately count Martha Stewart's peacocks? Brigid Kennedy

5:47 p.m.

Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle company is standing behind its vagina-scented candle that has now been accused of exploding on more than one occasion.

A Texas man is suing Goop, the company Paltrow founded, alleging he purchased one of its "This Smells Like My Vagina" candles and that it "exploded" and became "engulfed in high flames" after burning for around three hours, NBC News reports.

Colby Watson, who filed the class-action complaint, reportedly acknowledges that Goop provides a "limited" warning to customers that the candle shouldn't burn for more than two hours at a time, but he alleges Goop "knew the candles were defective." In January, a U.K. woman also alleged the candle "exploded and emitted huge flames," at which time Goop said it was in touch with her to see "if she followed the specific fire safety instructions."

A representative for Goop on Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit as "frivolous" and an "attempt to secure an outsized payout from a press-heavy product," per TMZ. They added that "we stand behind the brands we carry and the safety of the products we sell" and that the brand that supplies the candle has "substantiated the product's performance and safety through industry standard testing."

According to NBC, Watson is seeking over $5 million in punitive damages for himself and for others who "through no fault of their own, purchased defective and dangerous vagina-scented candles." Brendan Morrow

5:17 p.m.

Back in February, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration considered the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany, "a bad deal" that "exposes Ukraine and Central Europe" to Moscow and "goes against Europe's own stated energy and security goals." Similarly, during his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is "determined to do whatever we can to prevent" the completion of the controversial pipeline. But on Tuesday, Axios reported the Biden administration is set to waive sanctions on the company overseeing its construction, as well its CEO, Matthias Warnig, who is considered a "crony" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That doesn't mean President Biden now supports Nord Stream 2 — on the contrary, the White House reportedly still hopes it doesn't go into use — but it does suggest his administration feels sanctions are ultimately a bigger risk than safeguard. Per Axios, sources close to the situation said that Biden officials have determined sanctioning the German-end users of the gas is the only way to stop construction, 95 percent of which is already complete, at this point. The administration simply doesn't want to jeopardize its relationship with Berlin over the pipeline.

The waivers reportedly could be lifted, and sanctions reinstated, at any moment, so administration sources told Axios the looming threat should still give Washington leverage in the situation. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

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